If you don’t go back far enough you tend to think your ideas are somehow original. I have to remind people, for instance, that history is longer than the past eight years of the Bush Administration, and that there was a time before September 11, 2001 when people did f***ed up things to the world.
And so it is with the oft-heralded death of the short story. And of course, the rebirth. The demise of the short story has been lamented so often, yet you only have to look around at the number of people trying their hand at it to realize that it’s not going anywhere as a form. Quality and cost of publishing short story collections may be another matter entirely, but in the past two months I’ve discovered that short story and perfection do exist. Enter Norman Maclean and Montana fly-fishing country and what I consider to be short story nirvana.
Look, I’m not rugged by any sense of the imagination, except perhaps in my own on occasion, and I’ve never been fishing except for a time in nursery school near some sort of reservoir/lake where all the kids fanatically threw lines and sometimes poles at a dead fish floating on the surface of the water (what is UP with human memory?!!!). But Maclean’s evocation of the greater universe (even perhaps a God-filled one) with an simultaneous hint of frailty and human suffering found in our inner universes ranks as one of the finest examples of short story writing I’ve come across. Though I haven’t been one to praise technique or formulas for writing, A River Runs Through It seems to epitomize a technical approach to writing without seeming at all technical. It is only partially fiction I believe, and maybe some would disqualify it on those grounds, but even if it is too based in some sort of reality, it’s irrelevant. The story telling is that good.